Seven Reasons the Sharks Have Surged to 7-0 Start

Friday, 02.01.2013 / 3:44 PM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Staff Writer

Patrick Marleau leads the NHL with nine goals and Joe Thornton has a League-best 11 assists, so it stands to reason that the San Jose Sharks would be the best team in the NHL at 7-0-0.

It's not that simple.

If the Sharks only were about Marleau and Thornton, they probably wouldn't be only the 11th team in NHL history to start 7-0-0. Teams don't go 7-for-7 to start a season based on the production of just two players.

There has to be more to this Sharks team, more to this remarkable start, the best in franchise history.

There is.

Outside of Marleau and Thornton, here are seven other reasons the Sharks are 7-0-0:

1. Joe Pavelski's presence on the top line

While Marleau and Thornton are generating the headlines with their combined 28 points, don't discount what Pavelski has done to help those two get to the top of the leaderboard this season.

Pavelski has acquitted himself quite nicely as the third man on the Sharks' top line with four goals and eight assists. He's scored all four of his goals in the last three games, taking over the scoring load for Marleau, who has gone two straight games without a goal after scoring nine in the first five games. He is the only Sharks player with a point in every game.

The thing with Pavelski is it's not just about offense; it's about faceoffs (59.7 percent), ice time (19:13 per game, most on the team among forwards) and penalty killing (2:21 of shorthanded ice time per game, most on the team among forwards).

If Marleau and Thornton are the Sharks' superstars, then Pavelski is the glue that keeps them together.

2. Defense and goaltending

Again, the headlines coming out of San Jose have to do with offense, mainly because the Sharks are scoring 3.86 goals per game and have a power play that has clicked for a 30.8-percent success rate. However, San Jose's defense and goaltending have as much to do with the 7-0-0 start as Marleau, Thornton, Pavelski and Co.

The Sharks are tied with the Ottawa Senators for the NHL's best defense (1.71 goals-against per game).

Antti Niemi has a 1.95 goals-against average, making him one of just six goalies who have started four or more games to carry a sub-2.00 GAA. He also has a .933 save percentage. But don't forget that Niemi's backup, Thomas Greiss, made 24 saves in a 4-0 shutout of the Colorado Avalanche in his lone appearance this season.

Even more remarkable in all of this is the Sharks are doing it without one of their top blueliners. Brent Burns hasn't played this season and the team has given no definitive timetable for when he'll return from a lower-body injury.

Undrafted 25-year-old rookie Matt Irwin has stepped up in the absence of Burns (and Jason Demers) and has a goal and an assist while playing more than 19 minutes per game, including two minutes per game on the power play.

3. Winning the draw

Simply put, the Sharks are getting a lot of offense because they have the puck a lot of the time.

Why is that? They're winning a lot of faceoffs.

The Sharks are second in the NHL with a 58.5-percent success rate on draws. They're winning faceoffs, keeping the puck and generating offense. There really is no simpler way to put it.

All four of the Sharks' top faceoff guys (Pavelski, Thornton, Logan Couture and Michal Handzus) are better than 57 percent. Scott Gomez has won 68 percent of his draws (17 of 25) since entering the lineup four games ago.

4. Hot starts

The Sharks are outscoring the opposition 12-2 in the first period and have scored four times within the first 4:30 of a game. They haven't given up a first-period goal in the last five games, since Edmonton Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov scored in what turned into a 6-1 first-period rout by the Sharks on Jan. 22.

With their defense, goaltending and ability to win faceoffs, early leads are making the Sharks impossible to beat over a full 60 minutes.

The Phoenix Coyotes and Anaheim Ducks are the only teams that have erased early deficits against San Jose. The Sharks still were able to beat the Coyotes 5-3, coming back from two goals down. They rallied to beat the Ducks 3-2 in a shootout.

5. Quick strikes

In six of their seven wins, the Sharks have sent a dagger through their opponent by scoring multiple goals in a matter of minutes -- sometimes seconds.

There are few things harder for a team to overcome than giving up a couple of quick goals in a row.

Marleau and Martin Havlat combined for three goals in a span of 4:18 of the second period to lift San Jose to a 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames in the season opener. The Sharks scored six times in the first period against Edmonton, including three sets of back-to-back goals separated by 73 seconds, 65 seconds and 71 seconds, respectively.

San Jose came back to beat Phoenix by scoring three times in the final 10:45 of the third period.

Marleau scored twice in a span of 78 seconds in the first period of the Sharks' 4-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Similarly, the Sharks jumped all over the Vancouver Canucks with goals by Thornton and Pavelski in the first 3:26 of the first period en route to a 4-1 win.

Couture and Pavelski got the Sharks a 2-0 cushion against Edmonton with unassisted goals just 39 seconds apart in the second period.

6. Handzus' shootout supremacy

The Sharks had to go to the shootout to win their last two games, against Anaheim and Edmonton. It's a good thing coach Todd McLellan has Handzus as his leadoff shooter.

Handzus, who still doesn't have a point this season in regulation and overtime, is 2-for-2 in the shootout, and he used the same move to beat Anaheim's Jonas Hiller and Edmonton's Devan Dubnyk -- he came down the middle, made a quick move to fake low, getting the goalie to bite, then shot high into the left side of the net.

Handzus now is 18-for-34 for his career in the shootout, and 7-for-12 as a Shark.

7. Couture provides depth

Couture is as much of a difference-maker for the Sharks as Marleau and Thornton. The opposition can't load up to try to stop the Sharks' top line because coming right behind them is Couture, a back-to-back 30-goal scorer who already has five goals and five assists this season.

The Sharks' second-line center, who would be a first-line center on a lot of teams, is just like Pavelski in that he plays on the power play and the penalty kill; he just doesn't play as much.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer

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